At one point I was coming stone last. It's never a great feeling, coming stone last. It does tend to motivate one... "once you've hit rock bottom, there's only one way to go from there" etc.
It happened within the first few kilometres of the start of Stage 2 and it immediately put me on the back foot. It was a foot I spent most of Stage 1 on and naturally I was very keen to change this circumstance. Stage 2, for those who know a little about the 3-day Nedbank Sani2C mountainbike race, is The Big Day. It's 100km long and is a bit of a ying and yang affair. The first 40km is a spectacular descent into the Umkomaas River valley - easily the best piece of riding in SA. Then, to put the "mountain" back into "mountainbiking", for the next 60km you ascend back out the valley up some sizey climbs.
I was very worried about The Big Day. After my piss-poor showing on the previous stage where my partner Matthew De Jongh pretty much dragged me through the flat-ish 85km route, The Big Day was looking like one mountain too far for me. Last night, before I fell asleep, I had to give myself a stern talking to. Manly motivational phrases like "HTFU", "Time to put on your game face, boy", and "You need to man-up Stevo" paraded through my head as I fell into a fitful sleep in our tent alongside my peacefully-snoring race partner.
The morning started at 5:30am, in the pitch dark, with a gentle rain blanketing the race village. It was a morning that saw my relationship with Matthew reach a new and altogether more personal level as the rain required we both change into our tight-fitting race lycra at the same time within the confines of a small two-man tent. We have agreed to keep the details to ourselves.
Our race kicked off at 7:20am when our group went under starter's orders. And for once I actually felt okay. The first few kilometres started relatively slowly and Matthew and I were pretty much mid-pack. Then one of my water bottles fell out its cage. Given the race distance I still had to cover, I had to stop, turn around, and retrieve it. Needless to say the pack disappeared off into the distance. And so I was stone last. So was Matthew, who stopped to wait.
Not the way I planned to start The Big Day.
Fortunately it got better from there. The descent into the Umko valley was sublime.We started in misty single track on the escarpment and broke through the clouds as the trail wound its way down. And then it got even better.
The mountainbiking gods that had been so cruel the day before looked down upon me with mercy. Somehow I got my climbing legs back and repaid my debt to Matthew. I was strong and led the way up the big climbs. It felt good. Redemption was at hand. Cue the violins.
A strong team effort over the final 20km saw us finish in 6h24min. Not a bad time for a team on rigid-fork single-speeders in wet and muddy conditions. We improved our race postion by 77 positions. We're now coming 299th and clear leaders of the 40-something Single-Speeders With Assorted Tattoos class.
Tomorrow's final stage is 80-odd kilometres down to Scottburgh. I'll let you know if I fall in the sea. It's a real possibility. Seriously.